Mardi Gras celebrations were in full swing this weekend, culminating in the full day of dancing, drinking, and parades on Fat Tuesday. New Orleans is famous for a unique variety of music created from the one-of-a-kind cultural gumbo the city has been steeped in since its foundation. Not only is New Orleans known as the birthplace of jazz, but it’s also home to zydeco, Cajun music, and a healthy blues scene.
Marching bands, various street performers, and local hip-hop, and punk scenes ensure that a visit to New Orleans at any time of the year has something for every music lover, while the Mardi Gras celebrations and parades emphasize traditional New Orleans jazz and brass bands. If you don’t have the fortune to make it to New Orleans for the debauchery-filled holiday, here’s playlist to bring the Big Easy to you.
1. “Goin’ Back to New Orleans,” Dr. John
Dr. John is a New Orleans native whose music is inspired by boogie woogie, zydeco, and jazz. He employs the New Orleans-related themes of voodoo, Mardi Gras, and medicine shows in his performances. John started as a guitarist, but was forced to switch to keyboards after a part of his finger was shot off during a barroom brawl. Dr. John has had a career making music associated New Orleans spanning five decades and has collaborated with The Rolling Stones and John Lennon.
2. “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing,” Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Tom Waits
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is the house band in the French Quarter’s famous Preservation Hall jazz club. The group is famous for playing traditional New Orleans-style jazz in the small venue on a nightly basis while tourists and locals alike line up for limited tickets hours in advance. Waits’ own music is heavily influenced by New Orleans styles including jazz, blues, and zydeco, and his signature growl is impossible to hear without thinking of a punk Louis Armstrong. Having the two team up makes for a song that oozes New Orleans.
3. “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Louis Armstrong
While origins of this gospel tune are unknown, it has a strong association with New Orleans, in part because it was originally popularized by New Orleans native Louis Armstrong, and in part because it was traditionally played during the city’s famous jazz funerals. The song has been called the anthem of New Orleans and is where the city’s football team “The Saints” get their name. The song is so frequently requested that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band charges more to play it than it does other requests.
4. “New Orleans Blues,” Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton was an early jazz and ragtime composer and pianist who was born into a Creole family in New Orleans. Morton was one of the most wild originators of jazz, a genre he claimed to have invented himself. ‘Jelly Roll’ got his start playing boogie piano in a New Orleans brothel at the tender age of 14, taking his name from African American slang for female genitalia. Morton’s use of syncopation, stop time, and Caribbean influences created a distinct piano style that will always be associated with New Orleans.
5. “St. James Infirmary,” The White Stripes
While the White Stripes are Detroit natives, the blues dirge “St. James Infirmary” has long been associated with New Orleans. It has also been recorded by New Orleans’ own Louis Armstrong and the blues guitarist Blind Willie McTell. The traditional song has its roots in an English folk tune and the hospital referred to in the title isn’t in New Orleans, but the dirge style, tale of a life cut short by debauchery, plus the popularization by Armstrong make the song feel like it was written about New Orleans. Jack White’s bone-chilling piano stomp sounds like a punked-out Jelly Roll Morton.
6. “The Fat Man,” Fats Domino
There is a school of believers who think that rock and roll was really invented in New Orleans, and Fats Domino’s records often cited as the evidence. The blues pianist and rock-and-roll pioneer was born and raised in New Orleans in a French-Creole family. “The Fat Man” was his first record, the recording of which was overseen by famed New Orleans producer and musician Dave Bartholomew.
7. “Heebie Jeebies,” Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
Louis Armstrong is possibly New Orleans’ most famous musical native and one of the greatest artistic icons of the twentieth century. Armstrong arguably created the jazz technique of scat singing in this 1926 song. His low, gravely voice voice and jazz trumpet playing are also instantly recognizable. Armstrong’s early recordings with both the Hot Fives and the Hot Sevens are the definitive examples of New Orleans jazz.
8. “The Majesty of the Blues (The Puheeman Strut),” Wynton Marsalis
Pultizer prize winning jazz trumpet player and composer <a
href=”http://www.knowla.org/entry/720/&view=summary” target=”_blank”>Wynton Marsalis was born in New Orleans in 1961 into the musical Marsalis family. He spearheaded the jazz Renaissance of the 1980s and is an outspoken advocate of music education. Marsalis showed an early aptitude for music, studied trumpet at Julliard, and has received awards for his music that are far too numerous to list. Marsalis elevated jazz to a high-brow art form that could be taken seriously by the classical community and is responsible for advocating jazz and jazz history as an integral part of American culture and history.
9. “Wild Cat Blues,” Sidney Bechet
Jazz clarinet pioneer Sidney Bechet was born in 1897 into a Creole family in New Orleans and showed early talents for playing jazz even though his middle-class family spurned the genre, which at the time was thought of as being low-class music. The Encyclopedia of Louisiana calls him “one of the first great soloists of traditional New Orleans jazz,” and like Jelly Roll Morton indulged in an erratic and wild behavior off-stage, something that of course would become a rock and roll archetype.
10. “House of the Rising Sun”
This is probably the most famous song about New Orleans. The traditional folk song has been covered by a myriad of artists, with the most famous version being the organ-laden blues cover by the Animals, which changed the narrative to a male perspective. The original lyrics, which can be heard in a folkier version from Bob Dylan’s first record, come from the perspective of a female prostitute, not her male customer. ‘House’ is a classic folk song, made all the more fascinating because we don’t know who wrote it. That mystery leaves us free to imagine a heartbroken prostitute stranded in the New Orleans brothel that’s “been the ruin of many a poor girl,” penning the heartbreaking chronicle of the decision to resign oneself to destruction.
Additional reporting by Michelle Regalado
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!